Scandal shook the Nelson Police Department during a year in which British Columbian law enforcement came under provincial scrutiny.
In July, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner confirmed eight present and former members of the department were under investigation for allegedly sharing racists comments in a WhatsApp group chat.
The investigation, which is being carried out by the Vancouver Police Department, began Feb. 3 on the orders of NPD Chief Donovan Fisher. In November, a spokesperson for the complaint commissioner told the Nelson Star that the investigation has been extended into 2023.
The timing of the allegations came shortly after a 2021 report suggested Black and Indigenous peoples are more likely to be arrested in Nelson than white people.
A provincial committee in April meanwhile made recommended changes to the Police Act meant to address systemic racism in law enforcement, which Premier David Eby said he supports during an August stop in Nelson.
Nelson police faced yet more controversy in November after resident Ron Bendle posted a seven-second video to Facebook of his bruised face and alleged officer Sgt. Nate Holt had used excessive force during a traffic stop in June 2021. Vancouver police are also investigating Bendle’s allegation.
Despite the investigations, Nelson is experiencing its lowest crime rate in over two decades.
Annual data provided by Statistics Canada showed in 2021 that Nelson’s crime severity index, which measures Criminal Code violations weighted by seriousness of offences, fell to its lowest score since Stats Canada began using the measurement in 1998. The severity of violent crimes also dropped to a 10-year low.
Only 132 people were charged with crimes in 2021, the lowest number since 1998, and none of those involved youth.
But the impact of local policing on crime is unclear.
In November, Fisher requested a 6.8 per cent budget increase from city council to train new officers and cover an anticipated salary bump. During the presentation he characterized the current state of the department as a “response-only model of policing. Calls come in and we go and respond to the calls.”
The money would not increase the number of officers beyond the 20 currently allowed by the city. NPD hired four new officers this year, including Deputy Chief Raj Saini, but Fisher said typically 20 per cent of his officers are on leave for stress, fatigue, physical injuries and sick leave.
There has been, he added “a general decline in individual performance, and a proliferation of conduct problems.”